John Fedora peers into his binder where more than a hundred songs are alphabetized and organized by title. Jill Murphy sits across from him with her guitar. They croon old country and bluegrass songs for an hour every week. Back and forth they’ll pick songs – everything from Long Red Veil, to Big Rock Candy Mountain. If you don’t know otherwise, it’s just two people jamming, and that’s the whole point, to take the patient somewhere else.
John’s been living with cancer since 2003 and the last few years have been more difficult. But for him, music helps.
Singing is a joy of life. It keeps you smiling and if you haven’t got a smile on your face singing, than you’ve got a frown on, so…
The Hospice Palliative Care Society hired music therapist Jill Murphy in 2009. She says it’s rare to be able to spend so much time with a patient. “I might work with someone for a session, maybe a few weeks, maybe a few months, but for ten months, it’s very unique.” Their synergy is evident in their mutual love of music.
Johnny Cash’s Sunday Morning Sidewalk, is next on the hit parade. Fedora’s spirit and strength grow with every word. As does his broad, kind smile. “I feel alive and I feel good.”
Nearly an hour into the session, he’s not showing any signs of fatigue. “I could go all afternoon,” he laughs. And he’s not kidding. At seventy years old, he says he’s always been interested in music. “If I’m doing something, I’m singing. I don’t remember anytime when I haven’t been singing.”
On the days when he knows Jill is coming for a visit, he takes his nap early. “I can’t wait for it. I wish she’d come everyday,” he laughs, but he means it. “There’s been days when I’ve been down in the dumps and then I’d be singing with Jill and I felt better after that.”
He holds up a CD he made with Jill of him singing many of the country songs he loves. A birthday present for his wife Marguerite, he gave it to her before she left for work that day. “She came home a few minutes later and I asked her if she liked the CD and she said she was crying all the way to work,” John smiles impishly. “So she must have liked it.”
Since then he’s made dozens of copies and given them to the rest of his family and many friends. “Everybody I gave it to liked it,” he says with a modest smile. “So I’m proud of that.” He’s working on his second CD, this one will also feature poems — including Robert Service’s, The Cremation of Sam McGee.
John recommends the music therapy program to anyone in palliative care. “No reason in the world why not to — do a little bit, just try it and see if you like it,” reasons John. “I hear people singing all the time, but when it comes to this, people clam up, but hey,” John shrugs his shoulders in a why not sort of way, “try it – bare your soul.” And what would he like people to know about palliative care? “It’s not just for the dying, it’s for the living, too.” Jill Murphy says it’s an hour out of the week where they’re just focusing on the music — not worrying about anything else in either of our lives. “John says it brightens up his day, but it brightens up mine as well.”
He comes to a strong finish on Lefty Frizzell’s, Mom and Dad’s Waltz. “The service I’ve received at palliative care has just been phenomenal, everybody treats me so nice,” he says. “They go above and beyond. They know you’re gonna go,” John reflects, “but they treat you as best they can in the time you got.”
If you’re singing, he smiles. You’re not worried about something else.
“I’ll fly away… To a home on god’s celestial shore… when I die, alleluia by and by, I’ll fly away. Just a few more weary days and then… I’ll fly away…”
John Fedora died on March 20th, 2015.